Good news/Bad news

August 27 2007

Good news/Bad news

August 27 2007

Good news/Bad news




Pakistan’s president, struggling with increasingly powerful Islamic extremists and dwindling public support, nearly called a state of emergency late last week, changing course only after a call from U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. On Tuesday, Musharraf conceded on state TV, “Yes, my popularity has been reduced.” But his day ended with a glimmer of hope—fresh rumours of a power-sharing deal with exiled former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

L’amour food

The cultural chasm between the French and Americans has finally been bridged—by a cartoon rat. Pixar’s animated flick Ratatouille has la grande publique flocking to theatres, and usually snooty critics gushing over its gourmet pedigree: “One of the greatest gastronomic films in the history of cinema,” declared Le Monde. The hit movie’s lovingly detailed cooking scenes have also won praise from some of France’s top chefs. The fuss probably won’t be enough to heal divisions over Iraq, but it seems to have demolished the stereotype that America only produces hamburger-obsessed philistines. Now if only they could agree on Jerry Lewis.

Options? Prison.

The United States continues to walk the walk when it comes to fighting white-collar crime, winning a convincing victory in the first case to go to trial in the stock option backdating scandal. Former Brocade Communications Systems CEO Gregory Reyes was found guilty of conspiracy and fraud, and now faces 20 years in prison. The case is a wake-up call for dozens of other companies implicated in the scandal, in which executives retroactively cherry-picked dates to peg to stock options, dramatically inflating their value. We can only hope the message will make its way north of the border, where Canadian regulators have, at least publicly, shown only indifference to what is clearly a widespread problem.

On the rebound

For a change, there was some good news on the environmental front this week. In Europe, scientists reported that several rare

birds—including the barnacle goose and the white stork—are rebounding. In Brazil, the destruction of the world’s largest rainforest has fallen to its lowest rate in nearly 20 years. And in Wyoming, the famous blackfooted ferret is making a comeback. Speaking of comebacks, Al Gore’s revival remains in full swing. Hundreds of the former U.S. vice-president’s supporters have officially formed California Draft Gore, a grassroots committee that hopes to put his


name on the 2008 electoral ballot for the presidency. But the environmental guru continues to deny any White House aspirations, telling reporters in Singapore that although he may reenter American politics some day, he has “no plans” to run for the top job next year. His would-be opponents can only hope he’s not telling a convenient lie.

Late lawyers

Talk about jumping on the bandwagon. Five years after Canadian teen Omar Khadr was shipped to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba —and after countless other human rights groups and social justice organizations have demanded his freedom—the Canadian Bar Association has finally joined the protest. In an open letter released last week, the collective voice of Canada’s 37,000 lawyers urged Stephen Harper to press the Bush administration for Khadr’s im-

mediate release. “This situation demands immediate action on behalf of the Canadian government,” reads the letter, signed by CBA president J. Parker MacCarthy. In a subsequent interview, MacCarthy acknowledged this much: “I guess we can be faulted for not having intervened earlier.” Indeed. If Khadr is eventually sent home, let’s hope the CBA waits another five years

before taking any of the credit. In the meantime, maybe they can start dealing with another pressing issue: their skyrocketing fees. Two prominent judges— Justice John Gomery and Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin—said last week that the price of justice is becoming too high for even the middle class. “I don’t think the legal profession is giving the proper attention to the problem,” Gomery said. “It’s suicidal, the direction we’re going now.”

Overzealous cops

This wasn’t your week if you needed sympathy from a police officer. In Belmar, N.J., authorities finedjoseph Palermo US$539 for violating noise regulations when he let a woman ring his bicycle bell at 1:45 in the morning. Gavin Docherty of Central Saanich, B.C., was even more unlucky. First, a fellow construction worker accidentally fired a nail into his head. Then, when a colleague rushed him to the hospital, a cop pulled them over for speeding. Docherty, bloody head and all, was fined $167 for not wearing his seat belt.

Scalpel please

As if surgery isn’t nerve-racking enough. Researchers at the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) have discovered 200 cases a year in which doctors accidentally leave their instruments—from sponges to other “foreign objects”—inside their patients. The consequences “can be significant,” says Dr. Indra Pulcins, who urged fellow doctors to follow “a strict practice of sponge and instrument counts, as well as vigilant inspection when the surgery is complete.” No word yet on how many of those patients were slapped with seat belt tickets on their way to the hospital.


Living up to her billing as an enigma, France’s first lady seemed indifferent on Saturday to politics, bowing out of a picnic with U.S. President George W. Bush and his wife Laura on the pretext of a throat ailment—then going shopping with friends on Sunday. This only weeks after she served as her husband’s “special envoy” in negotiating the release of Bulgarian nurses being held in Libya. French legislators were soon demanding she appear before them to explain her on-again, off-again diplomatic role.

Shiver me timbers

Canada has long claimed sovereignty over the frigid waters of the Northwest Passage, but now Ottawa seems ready to do more than just talk. Stephen Harper was in Nunavut last week to announce a new deep-sea port on the north end of Baffin Island, and an army training centre for cold-weather fighting in the country’s coldest community, Resolute Bay. Not a moment too soon with Norway, Denmark, Finland and the U.S. all making grabs for the Arctic—and the oil below. Russian claims, however, suddenly seem more dubious after “footage” of their mini-subs on the ocean floor below the North Pole turned out to be a scene from the movie Titanic. Who’s king of the world now, Putin?

Low-carb cash

Put away your pasta. The mayor of a town in northern Italy is offering overweight residents a cash incentive to slim down. Residents of Varallo Sesia who lose three kilograms in a month will

be entitled to $70, plus an additional $145 if they manage to keep the weight off for another five months. For those hoping to cash in, here’s a suggestion: pack your carrot sticks in a McDonald’s bag. New research out of Stanford University found that preschoolers are more likely to enjoy their food—any food—if they think it comes from the famous fast-food chain.

Back to Cincinnati

Make no mistake, Macleans loves HBO. Which is why we join many others in applauding the network’s decision to cancel its hyped show, John From Cincinnati, after one mediocre season. The incomprehensible drama from TV mogul David Milch (Deadwood) appeared to have something to do with a weird surfer dude who might be an alien, Jesus, or a terrorist, or some combination of all three. HBO was hoping that John would be a worthy successor to The Sopranos, but instead it gave pretentiousness and selfindulgence a bad name.

China dolls

Another week, another wave of chaos caused by faulty Chinese products. Mattel was forced to pull from the shelves millions of toy cars and action figures whose paint bore dangerous levels of lead, marking the second time in a month the world’s largest toy company has recalled Chinese-made toys. Trusted labels like Barbie, Fisher-Price, Dora the Explorer and Sesame Street have been caught up in this marketing nightmare—just as venerable North American pet food brands took a hit over tainted ingredients from China. And yet, the human toll has been felt mostly where the bad merchandise is made. In May, following the pet food scandal, the former head of the country’s food and drug safety agency was sentenced to death, while last week one of the owners of toy supplier Lee Der Industrial committed suicide. Message to Beijing: death in such circumstances may seem honourable, but proper regulation and quality

control would save everyone a lot of grief.

Armed & homeless

Fear of the homeless is on the rise after panhandlers in Toronto were charged last week in the fatal stabbing of a St. Catharines, Ont., man—a case that comes hard on the heels of the robbery and assault of an elderly man in a church foyer in Vancouver. There has always been a queasy tension between beggars and those they solicit, and Toronto police actually went to the length of advising people to “avoid eye contact” with panhandlers. This is precisely the wrong response, typifying a puzzling preference among Canadians to be intimidated rather than assume basic social responsibilities. The duties in question are straightforward enough: assist the truly needy, properly house the addicted and mentally ill, and lower a legal boom on the indolent, lawless types who increasingly view the streets as their personal stomping ground. Nl